Crutcher on Dayton’s chances in A-10 tournament: “I feel we’re going to win the tournament’

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Jalen Crutcher interview (March 2, 2021)

Flyers face Rhode Island in quarterfinals on Thursday

Jalen Crutcher wore a black winter cap with three letters emblazoned on the front — OAM — as he talked to local media in a Zoom interview Tuesday. Below those letters were three words: “On a Mission.”

Crutcher has been on a mission for four seasons now with the Dayton Flyers. He helped lead them to unprecedented heights during a 29-2 season a year ago. Now as a senior, he hopes to lead the program to something that would be just as impressive considering Dayton’s history: an Atlantic 10 Conference tournament championship.

No. 7 seed Dayton (13-8, 9-7) plays No. 10 Rhode Island (10-14, 7-10) in the second round at 3:30 p.m. Thursday at Virginia Commonwealth’s Siegel Center in Richmond, Va. The game will be televised on the NBC Sports Network.

“I feel great about the tournament,” Crutcher said. “I think we’re good enough to win the tournament. I feel we’re going to win the tournament.”

Explore» A-10 TOURNAMENT PREVIEW: Dayton faces long odds

Fans who know Dayton’s history in the A-10 tournament won’t be as confident. It’s a history that has to be repeated every year at this time.

The Flyers have not won the tournament since 2003. They have never won the event outside UD Arena — a streak that will continue this year even if Dayton wins it all because the final game will be held at UD Arena on March 14. They have not won a game in the tournament since a quarterfinal game against Richmond in 2016. They haven’t reached the championship game since 2015.

Who knows what would have happened last year? The Flyers were the No. 1 seed for the third time in five years only to have their dreams derailed by the coronavirus pandemic.

One year later, Dayton enters the A-10 tournament not as the prohibitive favorite but as a big underdog. It’s the No. 7 seed, and the No. 7 seed hasn’t advanced past the quarterfinals since 2009 when Duquesne reached the semifinals. The No. 7 seed hasn’t reached the championship game since the A-10 did away with divisions in 2006 and started seeding teams 1-12 and later 1-14.

The odds say Dayton has a slim chance of winning three games in three days in Richmond, Va., and then winning the championship at home eight days later, but Saint Louis had a 3.2 percent chance of winning the tournament in 2019 and won four games in four days as the No. 6 seed. It was the lowest seed to win the title since No. 10 Xavier in 2006.

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Anthony Grant interview (March 2, 2021)

Dayton has proven it can beat the best teams in the conference — except for Virginia Commonwealth, which swept two games from Dayton in the regular season by a combined 32 points. If Dayton beats Rhode Island, it will play No. 2 seed VCU at 3:30 p.m. Friday on the same court where it lost 66-43 in January.

There was no need to talk about that possibility Tuesday when coach Anthony Grant, Crutcher and guard Ibi Watson spoke to reporters. All the focus was on Rhode Island. Just beating the Rams would be an accomplishment for a program that lost its first game in the A-10 tournament in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

“Anytime the calendar turns to March, it feels like everyone has a renewed sense of excitement,” Grant said. “We understand the situation we’re in. Every game for us is our March Madness, our one and done. We are looking forward to the Rhode Island game. That’s the game in front of us. We’ll understand hopefully what we need to do to give us the best chance to be successful. We’ll need everyone to stay locked in and focused on the task at hand.”

Explore» ST. BONAVENTURE GAME: Dayton beats A-10 champ

Dayton and Rhode Island have played 90 minutes of basketball in two games this season. The Rams won the first 20 minutes and led Dayton 32-29 at halftime on Jan. 30 at UD Arena. The Flyers opened the second half with a 15-0 run and cruised to a 67-56 victory.

Seventeen days later, the teams met in Kingston, R.I. Dayton broke open a close game late in the second half and looked to be on the way to an easy victory as it stretched its lead to 18 points midway through the second half. Rhode Island climbed back in the game with a 19-5 run from the 9:32 to the 4:57 mark and won the game 91-89 in double overtime on Senior Night.

Dayton shot 25 percent from 3-point range (12 of 48) in the two games against Rhode Island. The biggest difference between the two games came in the turnover department. The Flyers matched their season low with nine in the first game and had 16 in the second game (seven more than Rhode Island).

“They’re a good team, very physical,” Watson said. “We’re going to have to match that physicality if we want to win. We just have to make sure we come out swinging and leave everything on the court. The rest will take care of itself.”

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Ibi Watson interview (March 2, 2021)

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